The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Charles Bird King, 1785-1862

Nationality: American
Date of Birth: 1785.09.26
Place of Birth: Newport, RI
Date of Death: 1862.03.18
Place of Death: Washington, DC


Charles Bird King was a portrait, still life, landscape and genre painter. His grandfather, Nathaniel Bird (d. 1796), was an amateur painter.


King studied under the portrait painter Samuel King and in the studio of Edward Savage, as well as with Benjamin West at the Royal Academy in London. There he came under the influence of the English and Dutch still-life tradition and of genre painters such as Sir David Wilkie (see The Poor Artist's Cupboard, c. 1815; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC).

From 1812 to 1819 King worked as an itinerant portrait painter, in 1819 settling in Washington, DC. He was the first American artist to specialise in portraying the American Indian, e.g. Young Omaha, War Eagle, Little Missouri and Pawnees (1822; National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, DC). He also painted portraits of national figures.

King was a close friend of such leading artists as Thomas Sully, Rembrandt Peale, Samuel F. B. Morse, Charles Robert Leslie and John Gadsby Chapman. He was a member of the National Academy of Design and of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and he served on the first government art commission.

According to Frank Larned Hunt, King admired Portrait of Anna Denny (YMSM 4) for its 'charming grace and color' (#02200).


Bénézit, E., Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 8 vols, Paris, 1956-61; Viola, H. J., The Indian Legacy of Charles Bird King, Washington, DC, 1976; Cosentino, Andrew J. (ed.), The Paintings of Charles Bird King, Washington, DC, 1977; Cosentino, Andrew J., 'Charles Bird King' The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 11 December 2002).